6th Circuit Reopens Litigation Over Ohio’s Congressional Map 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Yesterday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reopened a class action lawsuit alleging that Ohio’s congressional districts discriminate against Black voters in violation of the U.S. Constitution and Voting Rights Act. 

Originally filed in April 2022, the now-revived lawsuit claims that Ohio’s congressional map — drawn by Republicans using 2020 census data — intentionally dilutes Black voting voting power by failing to combine the northeastern cities of Warren and Youngstown as well as the eastern suburbs of Cleveland into a single district. 

The challenged districts, which are currently in effect in Ohio, were drawn by the state’s Republican-dominated redistricting commission in March 2022 after the state Supreme Court invalidated an earlier version of the congressional map for being a partisan gerrymander.

In an October 2023 ruling issued in the federal class action suit, a Republican-appointed federal judge granted GOP state officials’ request to dismiss the case and simultaneously denied the plaintiffs’ motion to convene a three-judge panel to preside over the case.

Although federal law requires a panel of three judges to adjudicate congressional redistricting cases that involve constitutional claims, the judge held that the plaintiffs’ claims were “wholly frivolous” and therefore “do not warrant a three-judge panel.”

The Black voters who filed the lawsuit subsequently appealed to the 6th Circuit, which yesterday voided the district court’s dismissal order and sent the case back down for further litigation to be overseen by a three-judge panel. The 6th Circuit panel’s order concluded that the district court “was required to convene a three-judge court” in accordance with federal law and erred in denying the plaintiffs’ request.

The March 2022 congressional map at issue in the reopened federal lawsuit has also been the subject of litigation in state court, where previous lawsuits claimed that the districts constitute pro-Republican gerrymanders. In a July 2022 ruling, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed as much, striking down districts for violating the state constitution after similarly blocking a prior iteration of the map earlier that year. 

Although the Ohio Supreme Court mandated that the March 2022 districts be redrawn to more accurately reflect the partisan makeup of the state, Ohio lawmakers as well as the redistricting commission failed to enact new districts in compliance with the court’s order. 

Pro-voting groups have since withdrawn the state-level legal challenges to the map, citing concerns that Republicans could entrench an even more skewed gerrymander that would be greenlit by the state Supreme Court’s newly constituted GOP majority. As of now, the state’s March 2022 map remains in place, with Republicans holding 10 out of the state’s 15 total congressional districts. 

Against the backdrop of Ohio’s fraught congressional redistricting saga, pro-democracy groups in Ohio have undertaken an effort to place a new redistricting reform on the ballot in 2024. In hopes of rectifying the shortcomings of the state’s 2018 redistricting amendment — which currently tasks partisan elected officials and lawmakers with congressional map-drawing — the pro-voting groups’ proposed amendment would create a 15-member citizen-led redistricting commission composed of Republicans, Democrats and independents. 

The amendment, if placed on the ballot and ultimately approved by Ohio voters in November 2024, would not overhaul the state’s redistricting process until after the 2024 election cycle. Nevertheless, those championing the measure are optimistic that effectuating substantive changes to Ohio’s redistricting process would lead to fairer maps in the future. 

The group behind the amendment is currently collecting signatures and supporters say they are “confident” that they’ll acquire the necessary 413,000 or more signatures to place the measure on the ballot this November.

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.